The Wall Street Journal editors try to cover for the president’s confusion on North Korea and Libya:
Except the two men are talking about two different events. Mr. Trump is referring to the overthrow of Gadhafi in 2011 amid the Arab Spring uprising inside Libya, long after he had given up his nuclear weapons* [sic]. Mr. Bolton was referring to the 2003 events and saying the U.S. wants comparable assurances from North Korea that its denuclearization is “complete, verifiable, and irreversible.” In that sense, Libya is the model for North Korea.
We trust somebody in the White House will explain this history to Mr. Trump [bold mine-DL]. North Korea is going to be the toughest negotiation of Mr. Trump’s life, and he needs Mr. Bolton’s counsel to avoid falling for the same false promises that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did.
If Trump doesn’t understand what his own National Security Advisor is talking about, it causes one to wonder what exactly Bolton has been doing for the last month. The trouble here isn’t just that Bolton is trying to set unrealistic expectations in order to sabotage diplomacy with North Korea, but also that Trump is so clueless and ill-prepared that he can’t even make sense of Bolton’s rhetoric. That underscores the danger of Trump’s aversion to preparing for the summit. No matter how much or how often “somebody in the White House” tries to school the president on basic facts of recent history, he doesn’t know what to do with the information and probably doesn’t take it in to start with. Trump took Bolton’s bad idea–the so-called “Libyan model”–and managed to make it worse through sheer ignorance. The president isn’t capable of handling complicated, fraught, and detailed negotiations with another leader, and no amount of counseling will change that.
The larger problem with North Korea is that all American references to Libya provoke the same response: distrust. Gaddafi made a deal in 2003 that the U.S. and its allies subsequently tossed aside when it was no longer expedient. That is exactly why North Korea isn’t going to make the mistake of disarmament that other authoritarian regimes made. The 2011 U.S.-led Libyan intervention is the conclusion to the story, but as far as North Korea’s government is concerned it is all part of the same betrayal. It isn’t possible to push for Libyan-style disarmament circa 2003 without making the North Koreans think of Gaddafi’s bloody end. Bolton has understood that all along, and he brings the Libyan example up because he hopes to derail diplomacy with North Korea. Thanks to Trump’s unpreparedness and bungling, he may very well succeed.
*Gaddafi never had nuclear weapons. His government had only a nascent nuclear program that was nowhere near as advanced as North Korea’s. The WSJ editors just can’t help misleading their readers.